German health minister urges EU to approve vaccine faster

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BERLIN (AP) – Germany’s Health Minister demanded that the European Union’s regulatory agency work faster to approve a vaccine against the coronavirus and end suffering on the continent, while other officials have suggested Monday that residents should forgo Christmas shopping as a new lockdown loomed. will close schools and most stores.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed on Sunday to step up the country’s lockdown measures from Wednesday until January 10 to stop the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases. Merkel said existing restrictions imposed in November had failed to significantly reduce the number of new infections. Germany has hit records for new daily infections and virus deaths in recent weeks.

Expressing his impatience, Health Minister Jens Spahn said in tweets on Sunday that Germany, which has created more than 400 vaccination centers and activated around 10,000 doctors and medical staff to start mass vaccinations as soon as possible. Tuesday, was hampered by the lack of regulatory approval.

It was particularly irritating because the vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech and US pharmacist Pfizer has been cleared for use in Britain, the United States, Canada and other countries. But it is still awaiting approval from the European Medicines Agency, or EMA, and therefore cannot yet be used in Germany or any of the 27 EU countries.

The EMA hosted a meeting on vaccines on Dec. 29, but Spahn said the agency’s evaluation and approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should “take place as soon as possible.”

“It is also about citizens’ confidence in the European Union’s ability to act,” Spahn wrote. “Every day that we can start earlier with vaccinations reduces suffering and protects the most vulnerable.”

Spahn had previously said going through EMA approval was the right path.

His ministry said on Monday that by January, between 3 and 4 million doses of BioNTech vaccination were ready for administration in Germany. He said that for the first quarter of 2021, up to 11 million doses of vaccination were expected.

In recent weeks, hospitals across Germany have repeatedly warned that they are reaching their limits when it comes to caring for patients with COVID-19 and that staffing in intensive care units is becoming an issue. As of Monday, 4,552 patients with COVID-19 were being treated in intensive care units, 52% of whom were on ventilators.

Germany’s central center for disease control on Monday reported 16,362 new confirmed cases – about 4,000 more than a week earlier. The Robert Koch Institute reported 188 new deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll to nearly 22,000.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Monday called on Germans to support and adhere to the new lockdown measures.

“The virus still has a strong hold on us,” said Steinmeier. “The situation is extremely serious: thousands of cases of death in a week and a scenario of infection that threatens to get out of hand. We cannot avoid drastic measures. “

Others urged people to avoid last minute Christmas shopping or panic shopping.

“I hope and hope that people will only buy what they really need, like groceries,” said Economy Minister Peter Altmaier. “The faster we get these infections under control, the better it is for everyone.”

In some states, including Saxony in eastern Germany and North Rhine-Westphalia in the west, schools are already closed or compulsory school attendance lifted so parents can keep their children at home .

Starting Wednesday, schools across the country will either be closed or switch to home schooling; most non-food stores will be closed, as will businesses such as hairdressers. Take-out meals from the restaurant will still be allowed, but no meals or drinks can be taken on site.

With the exception of Christmas, the number of people allowed to meet indoors will remain limited to five, not counting children under the age of 14. The sale of fireworks traditionally used to celebrate the New Year will also be banned, as will outdoor public gatherings on New Year’s Eve.

Michael Kretschmer, the governor of Saxony, who was particularly touched, told the German news agency dpa that this Christmas, for the first time in his life, he would not attend midnight mass. He urged other Christians to do the same.

“I don’t need it for my conviction and I think it’s fair that we all stand aside during this sensitive time,” Kretschmer said. “Joseph and Mary were also alone on the holy night.

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This story corrects the quotation in the last paragraph to “Joseph and Mary” instead of “Jesus and Mary”.

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Follow the AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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